Sandra Levy, the former dragon lady of the national broadcaster, was denying last week that she was in the running for the job as ABC Managing Director, but her sudden departure from Channel Nine naturally has caused speculation.

So would Levy be a good thing for the ABC? Her record suggests she would be a mixed bag – brilliant, creative and certainly a match for the bullies at Senate Estimates Committee, but also a divisive figure, not good at teamwork, building consensus and common purpose.

As head of television at the ABC, until her departure for Channel Nine, she was part of the ABC’s executive leadership group, but did little to quell – and some things to provoke – the infighting, bitchiness and factionalism that can make ABC folk their own worst enemies. The fact that the ABC is so faction-ridden is in part a failure of leadership, and Levy bore some, though certainly not all, of the responsibility for this.

On the other hand, she was brilliant. She lifted ratings to record levels – partly on the back of cheap and cheerful panel and quiz show programs but also with landmarks like Kath and Kim and Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope.

When I was researching an article on the ABC last year there were continual rumours of spats between Levy and News and Current Affairs head John Cameron over the television schedule – specifically Levy’s refusal to break into the schedule for big news events. Both acknowledged one “misunderstanding” but denied there was any truth in the rumours of continued tension. Nevertheless Levy gave me this quote:

“Some staff who have been unhappy with NewsCaff’s performance have subsequently assumed that the failure to cover the event by changes to the schedule must have been made by me…Television has been the scapegoat…for decisions made by the Director of News and Current Affairs.”

Her words were hardly likely to smooth troubled waters.

While we’re on the ABC, it should be noted that the Victorian head of news and current affairs, Marco Bass, was last week cleared of bullying allegations by the Industrial Relations Commission. The decision can be read here.

Peter Fray

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